Actress Leah Remini may have earned her first Emmy nomination for "Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath", but the show’s true stories are transcending the small screen to become a charged cultural force for change.
The former "King of Queens" star created the docuseries with other high-level former Church members to expose Scientology—a ‘religion’ in which she spent 34 years serving—as a financial scam, abuse of power and inhumane practice in the name of ‘total freedom’.
Season one of the A&E show highlights Remini’s own turbulent relationship with the Church, as well as the stories of real former members who allege abuse, harassment and loss as a result of their commitment to and disconnection from the organization.
The actress created the show with the help of Mike Rinder, a former senior executive of the Church of Scientology International and its secretive, controversial Sea Organization. He left the Church in 2007 after an altercation with its leader David Miscavige; he was ordered to “dig ditches” at a Church facility as a punishment.
The shocking allegations Remini makes against the Church are enough to make you question what’s going on inside this secretive organization, which many associate with celebrities like Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Lisa Marie Presley. But is this the wolf cry of a “has been actress” (as the Church calls her)? Or is something so scandalous really happening here, right under our noses?
As more ‘regular’ people speak out against the religion’s despicable actions, it may be tough to deny.
Remini’s mother brought her kids into the Church as it was sold to them that Scientology’s goal is “to free mankind, to make a sane world,” the family said on "20/20". Who would turn such a dazzling dream away?
But as an impressionable child, Remini said the Church placed a lot of responsibility on her and her older sister. “Scientologists view children as spiritual beings… You are not treated as a kid,” she said.
As a teenager, Remini’s mother enrolled her daughters into the Church’s ‘Sea Org’, a facility for members to work, live and study full-time in Clearwater, Florida.
When Remini signed her contract with the Sea Org, it said she must dedicate her life to working there for a billion years. Scientologists believe in reincarnation, and Sea Org members are expected to come back to the organization each time they return.
The actress says she quit traditional school in eighth grade to work for the Sea Org, but that ‘work’ entailed anything “from working in a laundry room to working industrial sanders,” as well as studying the teachings of creator L. Ron Hubbard each day. She remembers the living conditions as a roach-infested dormitory filled with kids like herself, doing manual labor each day on behalf of the organization.
But only a year into Remini’s billion-year contract, she and her sister were hit with ethics charges for their involvement with boys in the Org. The ethics officers threatened to put them in the “Rehabilitation Project Force,” a program Remini said is a severe punishment for adults, not to mention children. Rather than allow this, Remini’s mother pulled the girls out of the Sea Org.
When they left the Sea Org in the mid-‘80s, Remini’s family moved to Hollywood and remained active in the church, despite their recent drama. She dove into Hubbard’s teachings, determined to move up the ‘Bridge to Total Freedom,’ which she said, “promotes that you’re getting to high levels of awareness as a spiritual being,” on "20/20".
During Remini’s three decades with the Church, she reached OT Level 5 on The Bridge. “It meant that I had cleared all of my beings that are attached to my body from sickness, that I had cured myself from all illness… You believe it,” she told Stephen Colbert in a recent interview.
Remini admits she spent millions to reach her highest level and contribute to Church charities, though others like Kirstie Alley and Tom Cruise have shelled out more to reach OT Level 7, with Cruise determined to reach Level 8, the highest available. At Level 7, you apparently unlock magic powers, like the ability to read minds.
So why would someone get sucked into this so-called religion?
“In the beginning, Scientology teaches very basic morals and concepts, but teaches you things, how to do your finances, how to communicate better…,” Remini told Colbert. “It starts very slowly and of course there are things in the beginning that are very helpful, but as you go and as you get further indoctrinated, you can’t get out without huge damage to yourself and to your family. And if you decide to leave and speak out, as most do, their policies say to attack.”
Remini’s skepticism of the Church came to a head in 2006 at Tom Cruise’s wedding to Katie Holmes. She innocently asked where leader David Miscavige’s absent wife was, and church elders cursed her, telling her to mind her place. After that, she was blacklisted by members and had ‘internal reports’ filed about her.
Remini filed a missing persons report on Miscagive’s wife, Shelly, though an LAPD detective told her, “She is fine.” That same detective is now hired to speak at Scientology events, while Shelly’s whereabouts are still unknown.
Even with these questions looming, Remini didn’t exit from Scientology until 2013. She’s the most high-profile celebrity to cut ties with the church and openly criticize its practices.
First, the actress wrote Troublemaker, a tell-all about the Church's wild teachings, as well as other celebrities like Tom Cruise's crazy actions in the name of Scientology. After learning about the severe abuse and harassment other former members endured, she set out to create the A&E show to expose the organization.
The response from her show's opening season has astonished Remini. "We've heard from people who were inside Scientology, who told me, 'I watched your show. I went on the internet. I decided to leave. I am fighting for my children after watching your show,'" she told The Hollywood Reporter. "We get tons of those. And it's those moments that you go, 'OK — we're doing something.'"
Not only is Remini’s work to expose Scientology causing members (some of whom entered willingly while others were forced into practice by family members) to question their faith in the organization, it’s sparking a movement among viewers unlike any other entertainment series.
The show transcends being a television show and has become more of a cultural force, even among those who’ve never experienced Scientology from the inside. It’s a cause viewers are becoming activated on and getting behind, turning their fascination with the subject into activism.
Why? It’s one thing to hear the heartbreaking stories the interviewees share, but to recognize that these real accounts are the product of a business—operating as a religion—is setting people off.
Additionally, the show highlights the treatment of those disconnected from the Church as a despicable action, complete with bullying, harassment and slander.
"[Interviewees] don't get paid to do the show. The only thing they get is a hate website put out on them by Scientology," Remini told The Hollywood Reporter. "They get paid internet ads against them. Their families turn against them."
Peeling back the layers of Scientology’s overall goal to ‘heal the world’ and diving into its actual practices of costly trainings for self-improvement and knowledge, painful audits and abusive scare tactics, people are realizing this so-called Church is nothing short of a sham.
Still, the Church denies these claims, painting Remini's show as "a scripted, rehearsed, acted and dramatized work of fiction. You’re featuring liars who have, for a profit, been telling different versions of the same false tales of abuse for years, many reviewed and discredited in courts of law,” in a statement read by Larry King.
If the Church can back up all these claims, Remini says they should make good on their threats and sue those who have spoken out against them. "I welcome them to [sue us]," she said.
But since Scientology hasn't come after her (or anyone else) with legal action, Remini continues to tell fans her truth. “What I’m not gonna stand for is an organization with this kind of money to continue to do things like that, and to bully people and to harass people and to defraud people out of their lives, their money and more importantly their families. And I’m not going to sit around and watch it happen,” she told Larry King.
Remini set out to create "Aftermath" with the goal of complete disruption of the mystery surrounding Scientologists. Not only did she accomplish this, but this same goal has been adopted by viewers.
Whatever their motivations, exposing this ‘religion’ for the abusive business construct that it is will only continue amongst Remini and viewers alike as season two returns August 15.
Remini’s theme for season one was to show the disconnection in Scientology—the shunning of ex-members when they chose to leave and their harsh treatment thereafter.
With season two of "Aftermath", she’ll dive deeper into her attacks on the practice, particularly “all of the abusive practices of Scientology—sexual abuse and physical abuse,” she told The Hollywood Reporter.
She says this season should move into an “activist” realm by presenting enough criminal evidence against the Church to call for a federal investigation. “If the FBI ever wanted to get anywhere, all they would need to do is a raid. Everybody who’s ever gone to Scientology has folders, and anything you’ve ever said is contained in those folders.”
Tied to those claims of physical abuse, Remini says, "Scientology policy dictates that children are grown men and women in little bodies. They believe a 7-year-old girl should not shudder at being passionately kissed. That's in Dianetics.” Dianetics refers to the ideas and practices laid out by L. Ron Hubbard regarding the metaphysical relationship between body and mind. In these teachings, the ‘spiritual being’ is what is viewed, not the body or age of the person.
She also says that if a child is molested, that child or parent cannot go to the police; everything is handled within the Church. If this happens, the molester will receive spiritual ‘auditing’ to adjust their behavior, while the victim gets punished for ‘pulling it in’ or doing something wrong without the Church’s knowledge.
“There are no victims in Scientology. Anything that happens to you in Scientology happens to you because you made it happen,” she says.
Photo Credit: A&E